Soli Deo Gloria—To God alone be the glory. This motto of the Lutheran Reformation is also the premise of a series of doctrinal essays written by C.F.W. Walther from 1873 to 1886. Walther gave this series of essays to the Western District of the Missouri Synod under the theme, “The Doctrine of the Lutheran Church Alone Gives All Glory to God, an Irrefutable Proof that its Doctrine Alone Is True.” Twelve topics were covered by Walther over this time, finishing a half a year before his death in 1887.
This is the first time the entirety of these essays has been available in one volume. The first four essays were first published in English in 1981 in Selected Writings of C.F.W. Walther: Convention Essays. The remainder of the essays were first published in English in 1992’s Essays for the Church. Both are CPH publications.
Walther never wrote a systematic dogmatics text. These essays, in a way, serve in that capacity. However, Walther does not cover every aspect of every doctrine in these essays. His purpose was to simply show that the doctrine of the Lutheran Church, as opposed to the doctrine of other denominations, gives all glory to God. Walther explains while defending his first essay on Predestination, “This is precisely what we did with all the other doctrines; we did not analyze them in every detail, but merely demonstrated in what respect each doctrine gives all glory to God and all shame to men. That was also our purpose in respect to the doctrine of election, and it is simply not true that we were then treating the entire doctrine only as we believe it” (265).
Walther, early on and repeatedly, makes the same point throughout these essays: only pure doctrine gives glory to God. Anytime a doctrine goes against God’s Word it takes away glory from God, and any doctrine that seeks to give glory to man also takes away glory from God. “What is taught [by false teachers] may have ever so good an appearance. However, as soon as God’s honor is compromised by it, the church is false. Therefore, all present church bodies, other than our Lutheran, are false. This is not to say that all communions that call themselves Lutheran are true churches, but only those that with Luther ascribe all glory to God and remove all honor from men” (11).
The format of these essays is familiar to those who know Walther. He starts out with a thesis statement followed by Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and the Lutheran Church Fathers. These essays are apologetic and polemic, but more wooden than his famous lectures on Law and Gospel. At times Walther’s theses are his own, at times they are taken directly from the Lutheran Confessions (237-238). He expertly defends the true Lutheran teaching using Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, while attacking false teachers using quotations from their own works and Scripture against them. Walther’s proficiency in the Lutheran Church Fathers never fails to amaze. Besides the Confessions and Luther, Walther regularly quotes Johann Gerhard, Martin Chemnitz, Johann Quenstedt, and others. Walther attacks Zwingli and Calvin just as often, if not more, than he attacks the Roman Catholic Church. Walther is also not shy about calling out Lutherans who go against Scripture, attacking both the Iowa Synod (for example, on the Sabbath—p. 12; on decision theology—p. 156) and Johannes Grabau (on ordination—p. 130; on the authority of the Pastor over a congregation—p. 450ff).
However, don’t think that these essays are simply polemical. Walther’s attacks on false teachers clearly stem from a love of God and his pure Word, and his conviction that only true doctrine gives all glory to God, as well as comfort and assurance to sinful mankind. The comfort of the gospel abounds in this book. Walther maintains that since everything comes back to God, the Christian can be comforted and assured of his salvation.
Walther moves quickly through Christian doctrine in his essays. The first nine topics are covered during the first four district conventions. The tenth topic to be covered was supposed to be prayer, but the flame of the election controversy was beginning to simmer, and Walther was convinced to skip ahead to his planned final topic: predestination. He covered this topic with a series of three essays which take up over 200 pages. Walther’s focus on this topic, as with the other topics, is the pure Word of God and the assurance of salvation for Christians. Walther warns that we must not let fallen mankind’s reason override the words of Scripture, “Always holding fast to this, that election or predestination is always identified with the one elected, in no way simultaneously with the one rejected; for God has predestined no one to damnation. God predestines only to life and salvation. To be sure, our reason always wants to conclude that when man does nothing toward his salvation, but God alone does all, consequently God alone decrees the damnation of him who is lost; only a Christian is inclined to let his reason be captive to the discipline of faith” (183). These essays on predestination are the most historically significant essays of the series. What was a simmering flame was fully ignited by the first essay and became a raging fire after the second essay.
Perhaps I may so bold as to offer a few minor criticisms. Strangely, the editors of this book omit a few comments by Walther or quotations that were in the original. Little or no reason is given for these omissions.
While Walther does support Lutheran doctrine with Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions and the Lutheran fathers take on a larger role than the inspired Word of God. Not that Walther held them in higher esteem, but the quoting of and expanding on the Words of Scripture is not as prominent as the quoting of and expanding on the Confessions and Fathers. This leads one to appreciate the methodology of the Wauwatosa Theologians.
In emphasizing how dangerous certain false teachings are, Walther could be prone to possible overstatements, which is not surprising due to the nature and length of this collection of essays. Walther writes, when attacking John Calvin’s alloeosis and his teaching of double predestination, that Calvin denies the dual nature of Christ (72). Would Walther say, then, that Calvinists are not Christian? He also states that anyone who doesn’t want to be Lutheran doesn’t want to be a Christian (82). While attacking the intuitu fidei of his Lutheran adversaries in the doctrine of Predestination, Walther at times wrote things that sound almost Calvinistic. In one instance, he claimed that God gives a greater measure of grace to the elect than non-elect (251-252). This did not go unnoticed by his adversaries. Walther seems to overstate most often in his last essay, “Authority in the Household.” These statements should be interpreted in the eyes of those living in the late 19th century rather than of those living today. While discussing the fourth commandment, he repeatedly states that if a father does not approve of his daughter’s marriage then there is no marriage at all (514-520). He also condemns women suffrage in the public sphere (530). Interestingly, while Walther condemns women in the pulpit and makes no reference to women voting in the Church, it seems clear that he would also condemn some current Missouri Synod practices concerning the roles of men and women.
Despite these criticisms, the collection of essays is well worth the price. The true teachings of Scripture, as confessed by the Lutheran Church, are clearly laid out, explained, and defended against all attacks. Those who read this book will come away with a greater understanding of the pure gospel and a stronger conviction to defend the Word against all attacks. They will also appreciate the works of the Lutheran Church Fathers and will have access to direct quotes from false teachers. Although working the way through this collection of essays can be laborious at times, readers will be strengthened in their faith, comforted by the pure gospel, and be convinced in the truth that the Lutheran Church properly teaches the entire counsel of God. And since only true doctrine gives all glory to God, the reader will be convinced that only the Lutheran Church gives all glory to God alone.
 For a more detailed and critical review of these historical essays see pages 67-82 of Professor John Brenner’s, The Election Controversy Among Lutheran in the Twentieth Century.
 A term used by Calvin to deny the communication of attributes by claiming that any passage which refers to Christ’s divine nature or to Christ in general, in reality only refers to his human nature.